Martin Smith has been involved in the process of creating documentaries for 27 years, the last 14 as founder and CEO of RAINMedia, an independent production company based in New York City. Since 1998, Martin and his staff have produced over 20 hours of programming for WGBH/Boston’s public affairs series, Frontline, covering the world. In 1999, Smith added a key ingredient to RAINMedia’s success: Bogata, Colombia born filmmaker Marcela Gaviria, who had earned a BA at Brown University and her MA from Columbia, but returned to Colombia to launch her documentary filmmaking career. Tonight, Gaviria and Smith were bestowed the 2012 Writers Guild of America Award for their documentary, Wiki Secrets, a Frontline special that aired May 24, 2010 on PBS. The program was cited in the Other Than Current Events category.
Gaviria first came to Frontline in 1994, working with producer William Cran on The Godfather of Cocaine, a film about drug baron Pablo Escobar. Staying in Colombia, she produced field pieces for PBS, BBC and Discover Channel. In 1999, Smith went to Colombia to shoot the Frontline four-part series, The Drug Wars.
Gaviria recalls, “Martin actually hired me in Colombia because I had some experience chasing down drug lords for the BBC. We managed to do some pretty interesting reporting and got the first interviews with the Ochoa Brothers (co-founders of the Medellin Drug Cartel), who had never spoken before. It turned out to be good collaborative work between Martin and me. He then offered me a job in New York. I thought that was an opportunity of a lifetime so I followed him to the U.S.”
During the ensuing years Smith and Gaviria have proven to be a facile duo. In 2006, Smith wrote and co-produced (with Gaviria) The Storm, an Emmy Award-winning look at Hurricane Katrina. On her own, Gaviria has earned every major award in broadcast journalism, including, most recently, the 2010 Overseas Press Club’s Edward R. Murrow Award for Obama’s War and a 2010 George Foster Peabody Award for The Madoff Affair, which also garnered the 2009 Emmy for Outstanding Documentary on a Business Topic and a 2009 Writers Guild Award.
“Martin and I have a very collaborative relationship,” chuckles Gaviria. “And honestly, we don’t always see eye to eye. We both have strong opinions. Martin is very cerebral and I am a bit more emotional. It’s good to disagree and challenge one another. We often do that. I think that helps our storytelling. Overall, in terms of how to tackle stuff, we are pretty much in agreement.”
Currently, Smith and Gaviria are working on a four-hour story about the economic crisis, banks in particular. It’s quite a learning curve,” Gaviria affirms. “In this one, it’s very much a quick turnaround. We have to deliver this very big series by the 1st of May. Martin is leading the reporting on that. And I’ll be stuck in the edit suite most of the time. But it’s a very important subject. We’re all so confused about what happens at Wall Street, what bankers do and how we got into this pickle. It is very fulfilling to work on a project that helps people understand how things work. We are proud of our films and we are delighted they have gotten recognition from the Guild.”